Kimberly Kindy, at the Washington Post, has a great, in-depth report on a new proposal from the Trump administration regarding pork inspections. The overall thrust is to put more safety controls in the hands of the plants themselves—whose interest is profit, thus speed and efficiency—rather than regulatory agencies like the USDA.
The proposal would cut the number of federal pork inspectors by a whopping 40 percent, replacing them with plant employees. Those people, Kindy reports, would be trained by the plants themselves. In addition, the proposal would eliminate line speeds—the number of hogs per hour that can be processed—meaning that each hog would, necessarily, be given quite a bit less scrutiny, and also could lead to more workplace injuries in an already dangerous industry.
Foodborne illness is a significant health problem in the United States; the CDC estimates 82 deaths and 500,000 illnesses per year from pork contamination. Under the new system, pork processing plants would not be required to publicly disclose the results of their own testing, and their testing would not even be legally required to include tests for E. coli. The USDA also confirmed that, under the new system, they “have no plans under the new system to test for salmonella,” writes Kindy.
The Trump administration is not necessarily out of line with previous policies; President Obama attempted something similar for the poultry industry, only to withdraw the proposal after fierce opposition.
As Mother Jones notes, there’s already a model for this kind of sped-up, no-holds-barred pork processing: a pilot program with five large hog processing plants. But a 2013 audit from the Office of the Inspector General found that the plants were at a significantly higher risk of contamination, which shouldn’t exactly be a ringing endorsement for less inspection.